by Eric G. Wilson
© 2008 Eric G. Wilson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Americans are addicted to happiness. When we're not popping pills, we're leafing through recent scientific studies that take for granted our quest for happiness, or reading self-help books by everyone from armchair philosophers and clinical psychologists to the Dalai Lama on how to achieve a trouble-free life: Stumbling on Happiness; Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment; The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living [And had his new book been released when this copy was written, I'm sure that The Happiness Prescription by Dr. Snake Oil, Deepak Chopra, would have been included in the list. Ed.] The titles themselves draw a stark portrait of the war on melancholy.
More than any other generation, Americans today believe in the transformative power of positive thinking. But who says we're supposed to be happy? In Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, the scholar Eric G. Wilson argues that melancholia is necessary to any thriving culture, that it is the muse of great literature, painting, music, and innovation—and that it is the force underlying original insights. Francisco Goya, Emily Dickinson, Marcel Proust, and Abraham Lincoln—all confirmed melancholics.
So enough Prozac-ing of our brains. Let's embrace our depressive sides as well as the wellspring of creativity. What most people take for contentment, Wilson argues, is living death, and what the majority sees as depression is a vital force. It's time to throw off the shackles of positivity and relish the blues that make us human.